SIA Scotch: The Spirit of Entrepreneurship – Literally

SIA Scotch WhiskyBeing an entrepreneur requires a certain spirit. Sometimes, entrepreneurship includes not only having spirit, but producing spirits, such as a new Scotch Whisky. We invited Carin Castillo to share some of her experiences in creating a new brand of scotch from scratch. We are looking forward to a taste when it hits the store shelves, too!

Q. Describe your “Eureka Moment”. What was the market opportunity that drove your decision to form a company around this product/service?

A. I first realized the stereotype about Scotch when I was in a bar with my girlfriends in New York and we ordered three glasses of Scotch, neat. The bartender came back and then tried to hand them behind us, looking for the men he thought we had ordered them for. When he realized it was for us, he tried to hide a little smile as he walked back to some other customers. After I went down the road of creating my own brand, I hosted many tasting events that were non-typical Scotch tasting events, where I’d pair a regular event with a tasting, so as to attract non-Scotch drinkers. My greatest joy is when someone contacts me after an event just to tell me- “I ordered a Scotch today for the first time, and thought of you!”

Q. How did you fund Whisky Archive and SIA to its current state?

A. I’ve funded my company by bootstrapping (working a second job doing freelance design to pay for all of the research and development going into developing this new brand of Scotch Whisky. It’s been a labor of love and because there is no “guideline” or book about how to do this, it’s been a huge learning curve, and one I’ve enjoyed every step of the way. The product is finally ready for the first batch of production, so I set up a Kickstarter campaign to meet the funding needed for the purchase of the product (liquid), glass, labels, cork, etc. One of the biggest challenges was just getting to the point of asking for help from the community. I’ve been a Creative Director for 16 years working behind-the-scenes to execute other’s projects, so for me to step up from behind the camera and talk about my dream and my vision was huge. Also Kickstarter campaigns typically run on pre-orders of the product. Kickstarter rules prohibit giving alcohol as a reward, so I faced a huge challenge in coming up with rewards that made sense and fit within their guidelines. The campaign is doing well (as of today 85% with 17 days remaining).

Q. ActSeed champions the need for solid planning and preparation from the very beginning. How important is planning and prep to your company’s success?

A. The process I’ve followed to get to this point has been very deliberate. Because I have the luxury of time, and partly because I can only work as far as I have funds for, I’ve had to make wise and well thought decisions about purchasing and spend. Early on, I was introduced to some facts about the energy drink market and how the challenge is not in the conception of the drink, as there are many great ideas and concepts, but that the biggest failure is the lack of a go-to-market strategy before the product hits the shelves. Most brands fail because they put all the time, effort and energy into creating the product and think that the product alone will sell itself. I’ve carried this with me every step of my way and have methodically planned how I will go to market, locally and online at first and plan nationwide distribution carefully.

Q. How long did it take to get your idea into the market from initial concept to first customer?

A. I’ve always had a dream of making my own brand of Scotch but I didn’t decide to push forward with the concept till January 2012. What typically takes 4-5 years I did in less than 12 months.

I started in January with deep customer discovery by holding blind scotch tasting events to discover the perfect flavor profile. I spent the next few months interviewing bartenders, restaurant owners and other brand owners to develop my go to market strategy, pricing and value proposition while at the same time designing the brand, packaging and marketing materials and obtaining all the legal requirements.

All of the knowledge and elements are in place, and once I get the green light to proceed with production in January, my hope is to have the brand in people’s hands in the early spring of 2013.

Q. What influence have the internet and social media had on the way you are marketing, selling and supporting your products and/or services?

A. Over 16 years of working in digital media has come in very useful in bringing this brand to life. SIA is a brand for a new generation of spirit enthusiasts. This modern beverage will be consumed by an audience of people who have grown up or adapted to social media and use it in their daily lives. It’s how we connect, communicate, show and share support for products we like. I used the knowledge I’ve gained in digital marketing to build a following of Scotch enthusiasts via the Whisky Archive brand to promote Scotch tasting events (my own and others) to people via twitter and Facebook, growing a large audience of Scotch enthusiasts, and using this platform to communicate my new brand. The Kickstarter community support has also been outstanding, bringing my brand to a new international audience of people who are asking for the ability to order a product that has not even hit the shelves. I see it as a very real and incredible possibility to sell out of my first batch almost immediately upon launch due to all of the excitement and interest shown by fans online.

Q. Describe the challenges you faced as you built your customer base.

A. Because this was a completely new industry for me, it was hard to know where to begin. I have an idea of what I want my Scotch to taste like, but what happens next? Who do I approach? Do I need to get my importer’s license? My distributor’s license? Can I subcontract with someone to do this? How do I begin to reach out if I do not yet have a product? So many questions and so few answers. I contacted hundreds of people and companies who never even bothered to reply to me. So many closed doors, road that led to nowhere, but at each speed bump, I knew it was just a small test placed in my way to see if I really wanted this, to see how hard I was willing to try. People would ask questions like “Don’t you think there are already too many brands out there?” “How will you compete against these large companies with such deep marketing dollars?” and so many more questions that would be discouraging to someone who was willing to let them stand in her way.

Q. What techniques have you used to establish credibility in the eyes of customers, investors, partners, personnel and the general public?

A. The biggest wins in terms of establishing credibility came from running tasting events, eventually for other big brands, who used my services to help conceive, curate and execute successful events on their behalf. I made a lot of friends this way and built my name and reputation up. On social media, I built a great reputation by sharing tasting events for all brands of Scotch Whisky and a great community around it. In a short amount of time, I made many friends in the industry and built media contacts, so that now as I’m ready to launch my own brand, I’m not coming out of nowhere, people have heard about what I’m creating and are excited for me and my success.

You can learn more about Carin’s venture and support her Kickstarter campaign by clicking here.

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